Andrea Tallarita follows up his studies of Fantasia and Furbizia to bring us the third installment in his Understanding Italian football series. In four sections, Andrea looks at the array of words that pepper the Italian game. Part III introduces terms used in player attributes.
In Italian, ‘fiuto’ is the faculty of smell. In football discourse, the word is used as a metaphor for what is perhaps the most important attribute for a PP (Prima punta). It refers to the intuitive capacity for finding oneself in the right place at the right time to find the back of the net, as though the player could ‘smell’ where the ball was going to come from. It also indirectly refers to accuracy in first-touch shots, since it is implicit that a PP must not only be able to find the space but also use it to finalise when given the most transient of opportunities. Fiuto, like fantasia, is an innate attribute and it cannot be taught. When it works consistently, it almost seems magical – witness the enigma of Filippo Inzaghi, a player with little skills in ball control or dribbling, not gifted with a particularly potent shot, not outrageously fast, anything but physical, and yet so consistent and reliable as a goal-scorer that it defies statistically plausible questions of ‘fortune.’ Fiuto is much more distinct and specific in its uses than fantasia, but it is valued almost as highly when it comes to determining a player’s value to the team.
A rather simple word in its sense, willingness to sacrifice is far more difficult to find than one would think. The most explicative translation in English would be not ‘sacrifice’ but work-rate. Sacrificio represents a player’s willingness to run after the ball outside of his prescribed positions. Normally, it is most precious in reference to an offensive player who is ready to run back and aid in the task of covering. It stands on the opposite end of the spectrum with respect to talent and class, forming a dialectic in which the two qualities need to compensate for each other and balance out – talent without the willingness to sacrifice is useless and vice versa. Sacrificio stands as an important counterpoint to remember before the seductive power of raw talent, a reminder for the players as much as for the public.
Being ‘concrete,’ as opposed to ephemeral, abstract, inconclusive or vague, is a quality which assumes different meanings according to the position in which a player plays. In the case of forwards, it refers to their capacity to exploit their fiuto over the inclination to exhibit themselves in technical flourishes. Midfielders are ‘concrete’ primarily when they possess a great willingness to sacrificio, although in their case concretezza is valued less (and is harder to identify) than creativity. As for defenders, mostly it is a quality which refers to monodimensional or monological players – defenders who excel at one particular task and do not lose themselves in other duties while simultaneously never shining for negative qualities (for instance, a reputation for picking up red cards would be an important stain on the player’s concretezza). The defender who is concreto is normally invisible – in fact, the greatest defenders normally have skills and talents which transcend concretezza and they are not renowned for this specific quality. Similarly, the greatest offensive players are rarely the most concrete, meaning that the term is a rather ‘low’ compliment, reserved as a qualifier for those players who might never be great otherwise. For obvious reasons, concretezza is linked indirectly to both fiuto and sacrificio. On occasions the use of these terms even overlaps.
A player becomes a ‘bandiera’ (a ‘flag’) when he embodies a number of values of the club itself. His significance on the pitch then becomes symbolic, transcending the purely technical and adding moral, psychological and motivational dimensions to his game. Such a status is most commonly achieved by means of demonstrating great loyalty to the club. The greatest bandiere are those players who were born and bred in a given club and its city and never abandoned it throughout – Franco Baresi or Francesco Totti. However, a footballer can achieve a more modest bandiera status by other means – for instance, by establishing himself as the club’s classiest and most recognisable player, by bringing them trophies by means of decisive games or by breaking some of the club’s records (goal-scoring would be the most common). Generally speaking, a player is given bandiera value depending on whether such value is ‘up for grabs’ or whether it has already been bestowed upon someone else. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, for example, gained a moderate bandiera status with the Inter team before his departure despite giving no particular proof of loyalty (almost purely on technical merits, in fact), but he did not hold a similar position within the ranks of Juventus – this for the simple reason that he was quashed by Alessandro Del Piero, who is a much more potent icon than the Inter captain Javier Zanetti.
Understanding Italian football
Part 1 –
Part 2 –